WIUM Tristates Public Radio

Educators & Students Take Funding Fight to Springfield

May 26, 2017

Superintendents in western Illinois pleaded with the public last year to reach out to legislators and urge them to pass a budget and fund K-12 schools. They sounded the call again as the deadline to pass a budget this year approaches.

A group of 17 left from Knoxville High School Wednesday to spend the day meeting with legislators in Springfield. The group included superintendents, school board members, and students. They wanted lawmakers to hear stories of what a year without funding would do to their schools.

They met with State Representatives Norine Hammond (R-Macomb), Dan Swanson (R-Woodhull), and Randy Frese (R-Quincy), and State Senators Chuck Weaver (R-Peoria) and Jil Tracy (R-Quincy). The meetings took place inside a conference room of a Springfield credit union and outside the Senate Chambers in the State Capitol.

ROWVA Superintendent Joe Sornberger explained to legislators how a proposed property tax freeze would cost his district $354,000 over the next two years. He said that would cause the district to consider cutting programs that were once thought untouchable.

"When I came to ROWVA, they told me not to mess with two things, and the word "mess" is not what they used to describe it," Sornberger told the legislators. "Don't touch ag, don't touch band. Right now, with us not having the money coming in, they're on the table."

Galesburg Superintendent Ralph Grimm added that a property tax freeze would hurt because property taxes are the only reliable source of revenue for his district right now.

Sean Welch (center) tells legislators in a Springfield credit union conference room that he is worried his senior year of high school will be cut short because of the state budget impasse.
Credit T.J. Carson

The educators also expressed concern over whether their districts could last the entire school year next year without state aid. Sornberger and Grimm both said their districts could not.

ROWVA student Sean Welch, who just completed his junior year, is worried that he would not be able to graduate if his school is closed due to a lack of state funding.

Welch came on the trip to give a student's perspective. He said while it was good to get his concerns off his chest, he left Springfield without much clarity from legislators.

"I got a lot of wish-washy answers, honestly. Some of them said yes, absolutely you’re going to graduate. Others, you know they said I was going to, but you could tell there wasn’t a whole lot of confidence in their voice," Welch said.

After returning from the trip to Springfield, the group held a press conference in the auditorium of Knoxville High School. Grimm encouraged everyone to do what they asked the public to do last year when there was an impasse.

"We begged people to call, to write, to send an email, to go and see them," Grimm said. "And although we didn't get a budget by May 31 last year, we did get a budget sometime around the first week of July. And the contacts that parents made, the contacts that stakeholders made, that businessmen and businesswomen made, and that students made, made a difference. And that's what we need to have happen again this year."

Grimm said this difference this year is that schools are in worse shape financially. He said the state owes the Galesburg School District around $2.8 million.